Six fellow foreigners and I traveled to Guatavita, the birthplace of the legend of El Dorado. The visit to the laguna and the surrounding nature preserve was under two hours in duration, but after leaving my house at 8 am I didn't return until eleven hours later, in time to cook up a much-dreamed-of (through travel-induced hunger pangs) dinner of whatever I could find in the kitchen- pasta with tomato paste, olives, ham, and spices, huh. After an hour on the transmilenio and two more on a flota bus which we had to hunt for in the northern end of the city, we spent some time in the little town where we ate a typical lunch at an atypically high (tourist-specific?) price. We purchased tickets to ride in a small bus to the entrance of the nature preserve and prepared to depart - the two principal rules: drink water where you can, pee where you can.
We visited the laguna where the Muisca treasures are storied to be buried beneath water and mud. Our guide, Carlos, a Muisca indian, taught us much about the place and about his culture. First, we learn the word Cucha: a being more beautiful than the rainbow. Carlos explained that this word would be used to describe your mother, or perhaps your mathematics teacher.
He went on to describe his visits to his grandmother, which took place, he pointed out, not in the living room but rather in the kitchen, and during which he learned the stories and folkways of his people. He showed us a very small tree, the only living specimen of what was one the tree central to the cosmogony of the Muisca, but which was eradicated by the Spanish during the era of colonization because of its usefulness for building, being a strong and large tree
As we walked, Carlos pointed out the plants growing along the path, like mountain rosemary, which has no flavor but which is used in hair treatments. Carlos warned that the rosemary is a "jealous plant" - if someone who uses rosemary switches to another hair treatment, their hair will fall out. And the little white flowers that can be used to make tranquilizing treatments, which are referred to as "little drops of soccer player's sweaty socks".
He also shared stories and information about the laguna itself, like the fact that it changes color frequently due to the different types of algae that inhabit it (the last time he saw it bright blue was July 2010, and sometimes it is emerald green). The laguna has been drained so drastically that it is believed that the water once reached a level higher than the mountaintop from which we were observing what remained of it. When the lake was believed to be swallowing people up due to an enchantment put on it by a cacique, the Catholic priests ordered that tons of salt be poured into every laguna in Cundinamarca to break the spell.
On our way out, Carlos pointed out a mountain formation that appears to be a nose and lips in profile. The mountain is referred to either as the reclining indian or as the three old women (who were transformed, so the story goes, into mountains by - who else?- a Catholic priest who wanted to punish them for gossiping when they should have been attending mass), or by confused tourists as the indian laying down with three old ladies.